The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Mexico 1
A–284. Re Puerto Rico. The final vote in the General Assembly Plenary Session on item of cessation of transmission of information on Puerto Rico is scheduled probably for November 25. The United States abstained on this resolution, which was adopted by 22 votes for, 18 against and 19 abstentions, because of the preambular clause asserting “the competence of the General Assembly to decide whether a non-self-governing territory has or has not attained a full measure of self-government as referred to in Chapter XI of the Charter.” Mexico voted for the competence clause, which was part of a series of amendments sponsored jointly by Burma, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia and Mexico, and against the resolution as a whole.
For your information, it is expected that the preambular clause will be eliminated by failure to achieve the requisite two-thirds vote thus permitting a large majority of the Members of the General Assembly to express their satisfaction over the full measure of self-government which Puerto Rico has achieved.
It is suggested at your discretion that you approach the Foreign Minister informing him that the United States and Puerto Rican Governments hope that the Mexican Delegation may be able to support the resolution which recognizes the status of self-government achieved by Puerto Rico in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of its people in democratic elections. If the Mexican Government is unable to support by a favorable vote this application of the principle of self-determination and action in harmony with the large majority of Latin American States, the United States Government would hope that Mexico might at least abstain in the voting. The Embassy should of course avoid expressing or implying any criticism of the Mexican Delegation at the United Nations.
For your information, the Mexican Delegation in the Fourth Committee has taken such an extreme position that it is doubtful whether efforts on the part of the Embassy are likely to succeed in changing the vote. The Embassy may even regard such an approach as being unnecessarily harmful in which case the approach should not be made. However, in view of the unfortunate political repercussions in Puerto Rico if no resolution is adopted, the Department desires to take every step to insure that the resolution is adopted with the largest possible majority. Moreover, the Department perceives some value in letting [Page 1470]the Mexican Government know that we appreciate its vote recognizing the self-governing status of Puerto Rico.
For your information, the argumentation of Mr. Espinosa y Prieto, Counselor of Embassy, of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who represented Mexico in the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly was the most invidious heard in the Committee, the anti-U.S. propaganda and doctrinaire approach of certain other governments—the Soviet bloc, Guatemala, Yugoslavia, India and Indonesia being taken for granted. The United States Delegation regarded Espinosa’s views as most regrettable inasmuch as he and his Government have had as great an opportunity as any other friendly UN Member to understand the Puerto Rican case and to appreciate the merits of the Commonwealth arrangements which have been established in accordance with the wishes of an overwhelming majority of the Puerto Rican people.
There follows for the Embassy’s information the excerpt from the Summary Record of the Fourth Committee meeting on November 2, 1953 summarizing Mr. Espinosa’s case against Puerto Rico. It should be borne in mind that this summary is toned down considerably from what was actually said by him:
“Mr. Espinosa (Mexico) said that on the one hand, the United States was to be congratulated on the fact that Puerto Rico was certainly the most advanced and fortunate of the Non-Self-Governing Territories; on the other hand, the new and original form of association between Puerto Rico and the United States suffered from certain obvious defects. Out of their feeling of consideration for the United States, many delegations might be prepared to let those defects pass in silence, but the Fourth Committee should be consistent and apply to Puerto Rico the same criteria that it had recently applied to the Netherlands Antilles and Surinam. In a statement to the United States Senate, Mr. Miller, Assistant Secretary of State, had said that it would help the prestige of the United States and its programme throughout Latin America if the added recognition of self-government were given Puerto Rico. The far-reaching implications of that statement were obvious when it was remembered that the majority of Latin American countries were actively anti-colonial and that the Puerto Ricans were a Spanish-American people.
“Many Latin Americans were disappointed that Puerto Rico, which had broken away from Spain at the same time as Cuba and the Philippines, had not been as fortunate in its final status as they had. He was not overlooking the very real problems confronting Puerto Rico, problems reflected in the vigorous campaigns of the majority party and the minority groups, which were fighting for greater equality as a Full State of the Union. The main problem facing Puerto Rico was economic and, in opting for a system which would ensure them material salvation, the majority of the Puerto Rican people had unfortunately been obliged to renounce some of their individuality. It was to be hoped that the case of Puerto Rico would throw into relief the need to ensure that no peoples in the world were ever forced to sacrifice their dignity in order to live.[Page 1471]
“Latin America would not demand independence for Puerto Rico if the Puerto Ricans and the United States considered it impossible. Nevertheless, Latin America was a moral entity. Its prestige was an important consideration in the world and it asked that Puerto Rico should be given equality of status. In that connection, Mr. Miller, Under-Secretary of State, referring to the way in which Puerto Rico could assist the Point Four programme in Latin America, has said that Mr. Munoz-Marin had offered personnel, facilities for students and funds to the University of San Juan. He himself did not believe in technical assistance in its present form, but rather in a fair and disinterested exchange between countries that were on an equal footing. When the Puerto Rican people, who were the intellectual equals of any of the Latin American people or of the people of the United States, were also their legal equals, the Latin American countries would send their students to the University of San Juan and would grant scholarships to Puerto Rican students to attend their universities. When Mr. Fernos-Isern had the right to vote in the Congress, which had such broad rights over his country, the association between the two countries would be well on the way to fulfilling the requirements of Chapter XI of the Charter.
“Hasty action in the case of Puerto Rico might jeopardize the future work of the Committee. At the time of the San Francisco Conference Puerto Rico had been as economically and socially advanced as it now was. Politically, its status at that time had marked a step backwards compared with its status under Spanish domination, when the Puerto Ricans had been represented in the Cortes at Madrid. In view of Puerto Rico’s advancement in social, economic and educational matters, the United States was the more to be congratualted on having placed the Territory within the scope of Chapter XI. Puerto Rico had been an outstanding example of how the non-self-governing peoples could advance towards emancipation. If Puerto Rico was really no longer within the scope of Chapter XI, the example would be complete. But by withdrawing it from the scope of Chapter XI before it was fully self-governing, the United States would endanger the whole system embodied in that Chapter. It should be noted that, during the current session, the United States position on almost every point had been contrary to that of the majority of the members of the Committee and more in keeping with the views of the Administering Powers, although the United States was not itself a colonial Power. His delegation had always advocated a conciliatory policy and had often accepted the Administering Powers’ suggestions. The Administering Powers, for their part, should not underestimate the assistance they could receive from the non-administering countries. His country had suffered for three hundred years under the colonial regime and had been cut off from all contact with the outside world. It was in the light of that experience that he felt obliged to state that the information regarding the Non-Self-Governing Territories placed at the disposal of the United Nations was not sufficient. It was frustrating for intelligent people merely to review limited information without being able to take any constructive action on it. Unfortunately, moreover, there was becoming apparent a new and dangerous tendency to regard the transmission of information as dishonourable and a regrettable trend towards colonial isolationism.[Page 1472]
“His country had the utmost friendship for the United States and would have liked to see the problem of Puerto Rico discussed previously at a different level. It believed that the cessation of the transmission of information regarding Puerto Rico was unjustified and its stand on any draft resolutions that might be submitted would be determined by that consideration.”
There is also included for the information of the Embassy excerpts from Congresswoman, Mrs. Frances P. Bolton’s 16-point speech of November 3, 1953 in the Fourth Committee in which she replied specifically to some of the points made by Mr. Espinosa:
“14. Members of the Committee who participated in this year’s session of the Committee on Information and those who have studied the documentation considered by that Committee are aware of the various references made to the role of Puerto Rico in extending technical assistance in connection with various international programs. In this connection, Mr. Chairman, it is most unfortunate that the interest and enthusiasm of former Assistant Secretary of State Miller in regard to Puerto Rico, his birthplace, should be misconstrued.
“I believe that Secretary Miller has merely tried to emphasize what so many other representatives of the Governments of the United States and Puerto Rico sincerely believe, namely, that Puerto Rico, with its Spanish language and cultural heritage can help to forge stronger links of understanding between Latin America and the United States and contribute much to the advancement of the good-neighbor policy in the Caribbean area.
“15. Some disappointment has been expressed that Puerto Rico has not had as fortunate a fate as Cuba, both having been at one time under the sovereignty of Spain. I presume, Mr. Chairman, that this refers to the fact that Puerto Rico has not chosen to become completely independent. But our considerations here relate to self-government which has been achieved in accordance with the freely expressed wishes of an overwhelming majority of the Puerto Rican people. It is true that Puerto Rico has not chosen to separate itself from the United States and become completely independent, and therefore has not assumed control over such matters as foreign affairs and national defense. But I must point out that there are members of the United Nations who are said to be independent, yet they do not control matters of foreign relations and national defense.
“16. We have been told in this Committee in a most polite and ingenuous, though nonetheless straightforward manner, that the people of Puerto Rico have bartered their individuality in exchange for purely materialistic gains, with consequent loss of their dignity as a people. But I submit, Mr. Chairman, that the very fact that Puerto Rico has developed its own concept of commonwealth status is because it desires to retain its cultural heritage and the freedom to develop its own personality and the well-being of the Puerto Rican people without sacrificing the economic foundation upon which these paramount values are based. Poverty, hunger and ignorance are not the ingredients with which a society of free people can be established and developed and its dignity maintained.
“On the other hand, economic, social and educational programs based upon individual initiative and local responsibility build and [Page 1473]maintain the stature and dignity of a people. Under such circumstances freedom is established.”2
- Drafted by the Acting Officer in Charge, Non-Self-Governing Territories Affairs (Strong), cleared with the Bureau of UN Affairs and the Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, and approved for transmission by the Director of the Office of Dependent Area Affairs (Gerig).↩
- This instruction was not received by the Embassy in Mexico until after 12 noon, Nov. 24. At that time the Embassy took immediate action but experienced a succession of delays in the Mexican Foreign Ministry so that no liaison was effected with the Foreign Minister until the morning of Nov. 25. (Mexico City telegram 576, Nov. 25. 1953, 2 p.m., file 711C.02/11–2553)↩